#LoveOzYA Q&A with Lynette Noni
After studying journalism, academic writing and human behaviour at university, Lynette Noni finally ventured into the world of fiction. She is now a full-time writer and the bestselling author of the six-book young adult fantasy series, The Medoran Chronicles, as well as a second bestselling and award-winning series called Whisper.
Lynette won the 2019 ABIA Award for Small Publishers’ Children’s Book of the Year, along with the 2019 Gold Inky Award (Australia’s only teen choice book award). She is currently collaborating on a project with #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Throne of Glass series, Sarah J. Maas.
Her new release, THE PRISON HEALER, is out now!
You can read Lynette's chat with #LoveOzYA's A.B Endacott below, our check out clips via our YouTube channel.
What was the germ of the idea for THE PRISON HEALER?
So there was a couple of things.
One of them was that I was travelling at the beginning of 2019 and I met a young woman, who I only met briefly, probably for about five minutes. And she told me her story about how she had grown up in a war-torn, impoverished country, and when she was a teenager, her father was seeing shaking hands with someone from an opposing religious faction and her entire family was sent to prison because of it.
Her father was sent like this torture prison, she and her mother and her sisters were sent to like this, like political kind of prison, I think she had some brothers who managed to escape and flee the country. And so her whole entire family was, like, spread out from each other. She ended up being in that prison for five years, which is insane.
And I remember hearing his story and just the injustice of it and just thinking how amazingly privileged I've been growing up in Australia, in a country where we don't have to face those kind of things, at least not to that level. And but I was also really amazed by her agency: she taught herself English, she also got a law degree while she was there and buddied up to the guards and sort of made it so that they liked her, that they would give her favours and, and that in turn helped her provide for her family.
Then I continued my travels (and) she became kind of a blip in my memory. But then about six months later in the middle of 2019, I was over in Perth Scribblers Festival, which is a children's Literary Festival over there, and I had a day off and everyone kept telling me you need to go to Fremantle Prison. I was like, this is a really strange recommendation, but the amount of people that told me to do it, it just I was like, ‘Okay, fine. I will, I will go’.
So I did this tour, and the thing about Fremantle Prison, is that when they did have inmates, part of their labour was to dig tunnels beneath the prison so that they could provide a water source for the prisoners and then also for the town of Fremantle later on. And so I went down these insane ladders deep into the earth, and I walked through some of the tunnels and then I hopped in like a little canoe thing. I also paddled through the ones that were still partially submerged.
And it was just this, this entire world would open up to me and, and it was just such an eerie, horrific setting. That night, I went back for a night tour, and I saw like the hangman's noose and the flogging post and the cells where the prisoners lived, and the exercise yard and all these horrible places.
It reconnected the story of what I'd heard of that young woman in my mind, and, not so much a similar story because obviously, I have a lot of magic and a lot of different things in my book, but more the feeling that her story evoked in me and the such a strong sense of horror. and, and again, I keep using the word injustice.
And then I just started writing this book, and it burst out of me.
That that's a beautiful segue to one of the other questions I have, which comes from Alex, our #LoveOzYA Communications Director, who said she saw a tweet or something that said you written like 30,000 words in an extremely short amount of time. Is that true?
I would probably assume it's true. I wrote THE PRISON HEALER, the entire book, in 26 days. So I am a fast writer, I would never recommend it to anyone. Just take as much time as you need. Jessica Townsend's a friend of mine (and) she took 10 years to write Nevermore, and it's a wonderful book.
You know, there is, there is no right or wrong for how long you'd have to write. But me personally, I have a terrible memory. And so if I take a longer time, I write the same thing over and over again. So that's one reason why I write faster, (and) I just, I get so excited about what I'm writing.
For THE PRISON HEALER, I had so much of it plotted out beforehand, (but) there are still things that surprise you along the way. And it's those things that are kind of like, ‘Oh, how do I, how do I get out of this? How do I fix this?’ And that kind of keeps me deep in the world.
I think the biggest writing day I've ever had, would have been when I wrote the last part of Vardaesia, which is the very final book of Medoran Chronicle. And I think I wrote from like, I know, nine o'clock one morning until like, four o'clock the next morning or something, it was like 14,000 or 15,000 words in that one.
But just to pick up on what you were saying, you do plot. So you kind of know where everything's going to go, and then you just unleash?
It depends on the book. The Medoran Chronicles, no. Which is why I had such an intense last day: I knew I had multiple different endings that could work, but I wasn't sure until I was writing it.
With the Whisper series, the first book was similar in the sense that I just kind of let my imagination go a bit loose and figure it out. But with the sequel to that, Weapon, I very much started it in the same way. But I got to about a quarter in and I realised I have so many plot twists coming up, I need to sit back and take a look at these a bit closer and see how I can spread them in so that they actually have the full effect of what I want them to have. So that book, three quarters of that I plotted out.
With THE PRISON HEALER, I would say is probably the most I've ever plotted a book.
When you write that quickly, obviously, there's a lot of pros, because you would probably have quite a lot of consistency, because you don't have any time away to forget. But also, when you write that quickly, especially if you get a bit fatigued, like I would imagine errors of expression can creep in or even just, you know, wonky sentences. So is the editing process a more arduous one for you? Or is it pretty painless?
It's actually I would say the opposite, I think. Because, I write so quickly, and I guess curiously, if you can use that, I'm so curious about what happens next, I'm quite a clean writer. So my process is, essentially I write the book. And then I let it sit – depending on if I have a deadline coming up, it can be a couple of days, or up to a week or a fortnight. I don't think I've ever had a whole fortnight to let it sit before I go back in and I do a full reread from beginning to end.
And that's when I kind of just make sure everything works. Make sure to clean up any kind of minor things. I have a strange habit of doubling up on words like 'the.' Then by that point, it's usually pretty good to send to my agent and, or if I've got time before that's due, I'll send it to a couple of critique readers.
But I haven't been able to do that for a little while just with deadlines and stuff. So usually, my agent will get it; with the second book in THE PRISON HEALER (series), send it straight off to all my editors at the same time. Because with the six monthly releases, we're on a tighter time. Then, usually, it's straight into structural edits.
That sounds really nice, really painless.
Well it's not painless, but it's not like, terrifically painful. I have friends who kind of just leave entire chapters as dot points, and they'll fill it in later. I need to write chronologically. I need to beginning to end.
I think it must have been on your blog that you were saying that it took your journey to get published was a three year journey of pitching to actually get your first offer. So can you just kind of run us through that? And six years on, looking back on it, what are your reflections and thoughts on it?
I had a lot distracting me at the time, which helps. So I was working like a normal job, and I think it helps that I never intended to get published. So I wrote my first book purely because I couldn't find a book I wanted to read. So my first book, Arkanae, I kind of pulled elements from all the books I was reading, and I liked all those elements, but I wanted them all in one book. And so I wrote Arkanae. And when it was finished, I never wanted anyone to read it. It was just purely for me for my entertainment, for my enjoyment.
But the book ended and I thought, you know, there's more to this story, I need to know what happens next. And so I went on, and I wrote the second book, Raelia. And Raelia, it kind of ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. And so I reached this point, and I was like, I need to continue.
And I need people to talk to about this, because I now have all these feelings about these fictional characters, and no one but me knows who they are. And that's kind of where I sat back. And I was like, ‘Well, maybe I should look into getting published. I don't know anyone in the industry. I don't know how to get a book published. I don't know, the first thing about any of this’. So I started doing a lot of research, I looked into self publishing versus traditional publishing, and agents, everything like that.
And, and ultimately, I decided that I didn't know enough about anything to try and go down the self-publishing path. I have so much respect for people who manage that with the marketing and the promotions and everything.
It was at a weird time in the world where you couldn't get a publishing offer without an agent. But at the time, especially, agents weren't accepting authors who didn't already have a publishing contract. So I was looking overseas for agents, and in a singular pitching, but I was also doing a lot of slush pile submissions.
I started to get some really interesting feedback about my book. And that was, you know, things like, ‘We love everything about this book, but young adult fantasy just isn't a thing at the moment.’
And they still say that.
But yeah, so I was getting a lot of that, getting a lot of 'We love your characters, we love your world, but we just can't we don't have any room on our list at the moment', or just getting basically giving a lot of really positive feedback, but still 'no’.
I remember thinking if people are loving this, but still not taking it on, then how is it ever actually going to get anywhere? But I kept trying. I had this mentality that all it takes is one ‘yes’. So I kept trying and did that for three years.
And then it kind of reached a point where it was really slowing down. I think vampires were slowly coming in and coming out and I didn't have any of those things in my books. So I went off and I wrote a different book and that book started to get a lot more traction.
Then one day I was walking through Big W and I saw a book that had just been released. It's called Betrothed, by Wanda Wiltshire and she has a really beautiful cover, and I'm such a cover snob that I was like, ‘Ooh, it's shiny. What's this?’ And, I picked it up, and it was by a reasonably new independent publisher Pantera Press based in Sydney, and I hadn't heard of them. They had an open submission policy, so I submitted Akarnae. Then a month later, I got an email saying you're through to the next round of submissions. Seven months later, out of the blue, I got an email from them saying we'd like to publish the series. I didn't believe it. I thought that was a prank; someone hacked my emails.
The one thing I would say to aspiring authors is that, it sucks to say this, it doesn't matter how good your writing is, so much of it comes down to luck. And so much comes down to the industry. And so much of it comes down to market trends and stuff that it really shouldn't come down to.
You really have to do this because it's your dream, and you love it so much that you can't not do it. Because there's no guarantees in any other way.
I saw the sequel to THE PRISON HEALER, THE GILDED CAGE, is coming out in October. That's quite a short like cycle between publication dates. Have you written a whole series?
When I first signed on for THE PRISON HEALER, we were in discussions with my publishers around the globe – and this is before COVID kind of hit, at the end of 2019 – and they were like, ‘How do you feel about an accelerated release schedule for this?’
And I was like, ‘How accelerated?’ Because I hadn't even written the second book at that stage. But they floated the idea of six monthly releases, at least between the first book and the second book, because this book is my big global splash (because I’m) well established in Australia. But from a global market, it's my first book out in the UK, and it's kind of my proper debut in the US.
So they thought, rather than waiting a year between releases, if we can capitalise on the marketing (and) the hype that is already running off the first book, and it bleeds straight to the second book, it could be quite a smart strategy.
I'm quite a quick writer, so I was reasonably confident that I'd be able to meet the deadlines. But yeah, that's kind of the background as to how we have six months only between the first and second. I'm really happy about it now, though, because the first book, it kind of ends at this point where if I was a reader, I would want the next book straightaway. So now I can be like, you don't have to wait too long.
My next question is a bit of an odd one. This is a question more about Whisper and THE PRISON HEALER, and maybe a slight spoiler . . .
The physical interactions between the love interests, there's not a lot of kissing. I don't actually think Alyssa and Ward kiss at all. And there's like, an almost moment in this one, but, and there's opportunities where I'm like, ‘Cool, yep. It's gonna happen.’ And it doesn't. Is there a particular reason for that?
The reason is, I hate insta-love. I hate it. Burning passion.
It's fine in like, you know, in a romance novel, or whatever, it's perfect. It's great. And I'm all about instant attraction and instalust and everything like that. I think that's really powerful. And I love that I think it can really grow that tension between people, if they're attracted to each other, but they're fighting it.
But I just, I feel like in a fantasy novel, it really frustrates me when you know, you're on one path and everything is designed to be an action adventure and, and fantastical, magic, whatever else and then suddenly, you know, protagonists eyes meet the other person's eyes, and suddenly everything about the book is about, ‘Oh, what am I gonna wear on our date?’ I just can't stand it when the potential for a book and the potential adventure of it gets eclipsed by this sometimes juvenile romance.
Romance is my favourite genre, probably, if I'm not in editing deadline mode (and) just need to take a break from the world.
So it takes up until the final book before the two main characters actually kiss, the main character and her love interest. I just feel like there's so much power in that moment, when two characters come together in a romantic way. If they get together too early then they have a messy breakup, or they have some hideous miscommunication that they didn't have to have, and you're reading it you're like, ‘How could you not have just told him or told her or whatever’: the miscommunications that are so obviously there as like plot devices that are unnecessary, they really bother me.
I try to build up a healthy relationship between the two people who are going to be together, early on. I also think it's really important to advocate for healthy relationships that aren't just based on mutual lust, but actually have a deeper kind of relational feeling between them, and they respect each other as human beings. They've gotten to know each other as friends.
I also just feel like if you can give them that time, the payoff is so much more worth it.
One final question: why YA? Because we are LoveOzYA here – what is it that you like writing for and think has an appeal?
I think YA books have such a heavy focus on character development. I have a degree in human behaviour, and I think when you put it into fiction, it’s even more fascinating. But I think it’s such a transitional period in the lives of characters.
They’re shifting from teenagehood, or childhood, really, into adulthood, and there’s so much happening in the world and they have to figure out how what’s going on in the outside world fits in with them but also their place in the outside world. There’s so much emotion in that, there’s so many things to work with and emphasise and so many themes that you can use, tha are really powerful, and they’re themes the world needs to be reading about, where they’re a young adult reader – I have people as young as eight reading my books, and people as old as 80 and 90 reading my books.
But if you bring it back to basics, I really enjoy them. I really enjoy reading them, I love getting to know the characters, going on adventures with them, I love the escapism that comes from reading about them, and I love the eternal youth that you feel.
You kind of relate. You go, ‘I may not have been slaying physical dragons, but I had my own dragons on an inner level that I needed to slay’, and you feel courage as you walk through it.
That’s a beautiful answer, thank you so much.